dunaPart6: Focus on Young Independent Artists

Kamelia Nikolova*

dunaPart6, Platform of Hungarian contemporary performing arts. 23-26 November 2023 in Budapest, Hungary. Organized by Trafó House of Contemporary Arts.

The platform for contemporary Hungarian performance art dunaPart has established itself as one of the most interesting festival events over the last decade. Founded in Budapest in 2008, it is a biennial forum aiming to showcase the best of the independent art scene in Hungary to an international audience of curators, experts and performers. The founder and main organiser of the event is Trafó House of Contemporary Arts, collaborating with various venues and organisations in the Hungarian capital. Due to the pandemic situation in Europe, the sixth edition of the festival had to be postponed until November 2023, four years after its fifth edition in 2019.

Pál Mácsai (Solness) and Gabriella Hámori (Aline Solness) in Henrik Ibsen: Solness, directed by Ildikó Gáspár at the Örkény István Theatre, 2022. Photo: Judit Horváth

The undeniable surprise offered by dunaPart6 was the number of young artists and companies who were newcomers to the forum. The established policy of the festival is to promote innovative and experimental productions by both acclaimed artists as well as those taking their first steps, but in 2023 it mostly showed the face of the new generation that has emerged on the independent Hungarian stage in the last decade. This new generation, as we saw at dunaPart6, is truly interesting: it incorporates many different individualities and is above all strongly engaged with what happens in the world around us today, as it attempts to express our experiences and comment on them through the performing arts.

The programme of dunaPart6 was packed into four intense days, starting from 9.30 am and extending to the late evening hours. I had the opportunity to watch seventeen productions of the twenty-two on offer in the abundant selection. The general impression made by the festival was of high professional quality, with well-trained performers, especially in the field of contemporary dance, as well as diversity of ideas and creative strategies. This success is undoubtedly the result of the efforts of the curatorial team—Orsolya Bálint (dance critic and dramaturg, curator), Zsuzsa Berecz (dramaturg and curator), Tamas Jászay (theatre critic and lecturer, editor-in-chief of the portal for art reviews and criticism Revizor), Beatrix Kricsfalusi (theatre scholar and professor), Levente Lukács (art manager, dance artist), Julia Sándor (dramaturg), but above all to the endeavours of the artists, producers and managers working on the independent Hungarian stage over the past four years.

The bodies of the performers tirelessly fought against the space and against each other in order to win space for themselves in Dense Piece, AHA Collectiva, produced by SIN Arts centre, 2023. Photo: Dániel Fórizs

A few productions stood out for their originality, experimental spirit and the impressive artistic excellence of their creators. The dance piece humbly entitled Dense Piece (2023) by AHA Collectiva, produced by SIN Arts centre, was deeply moving with the impressive physical skills and commitment of the performers. The collective training of the six dancers at the SEAD in Salzburg, Austria no doubt contributed to their exceptionally professional presence and synchronicity on stage, but the true achievement of the performance lay in its combination of austere conceptuality and the skill to express the latter fully on stage. The bodies of the performers fought tirelessly against the space and against each other in order to win space for themselves, while at the same time each performer desperately sought contact with the other. Could there be a better and more topical insight into present-day humanity and its dilemmas and obsessions?

Dance platform SUB.LAB.PRO aims to reach the archetypal roots of dance by exploring the concept of the round dance in Ring, idea and choreography Jenna Jalonen, 2021. Photo: Dániel Dömölky

Ring, by the dance platform SUB.LAB.PRO, created and managed by Jenna Jalonen, a Finnish choreographer based in Budapest since 2010, was also among the most impressive dance performances included in dunaPart6. Aiming to reach the archetypal roots of dance by exploring the concept of the round dance and its manifestations in folk dances in different countries, the piece is a bold experiment with body memory, rejecting stratified cultural clichés and conventions. It comes as no surprise that the performance has been selected by the dance network Aerowaves and has won the “Rudolf Laban” award.

Inventive, artistic and bitterly self-ironic was the performance Artists Like Me by Julia Vavra, a Hungarian dancer, choreographer and interdisciplinary artist, who has been based in New York for the past few years. The performance is developed from her final project of the same title, at the School for New Dance Development in Amsterdam in 2021. Mixing different genres and aesthetic strategies, with a lot of humour, unexpected personal stories and provocative images, it candidly poses some of the most acute and poignant questions faced by independent artists, in particular those from Eastern Europe, in their efforts to present their work on the leading European stages. Julia Vavra herself, Veronika Szabó and the young dance artist Adél Juhász offered magnificent performances.

Artists Like Me, created and filmed by Julia Vavra, 2023, poses some of the most acute and poignant questions faced by independent artists. Photo: Alex Cepile

Another performance distinguished by the strong presence of the actors was Living the Dream with My Grandma by László Göndör, a personal story created and told in an original way. The production was included in the dunaPart6 programme following its success in 2022 when it received the award for best innovative performance in Hungary and was presented at the international theatre festival Divadelna Nitra in Slovakia.

The performance is a specific form of contemporary documentary theatre. At the Trafó chamber hall, in close proximity to the audience, the performer László Göndör offered a commentary on an hour-long video recording, projected on a screen behind him, containing extracts from his conversations with his 97-year old grandmother Éva Katona. From the commentary it becomes clear that the recording was made during the pandemic, at a time when the performer was going through a serious crisis and moved in with his beloved grandmother, who has survived the horrors of the Holocaust but has nevertheless kept her self-respect and the ability to enjoy the little pleasures of life. The performer skilfully treads the delicate borderline between moving honesty and eulogy, shown with bravado in the style of a TV show, of Éva Katona and people like her, who bring back one’s faith in life.

László Göndör in Living the Dream with My Grandma, 2021. Photo: Gergery Ofner

Demerung (Rejection) is a curious rendition of Chekhov’s Cherry Orchard, directed by Daniel Kovacs and Mate Hegymegi for the Narratíva Kollektíva theatre company. In 2022, the performance was named the best independent production of the year by the association of Hungarian theatre critics. The undisputed quality of the performance stems from its visual concept. A small wooden platform, in the centre of which stands an old children’s bed, symbolises the cosiness of the family home; Ranevska and some of the other characters sit on it during the most poignant moments of the action. Piles of books are deftly scattered on the floor around the platform. The world of the great libraries, the cult of reading and long conversations about books and art is no more. Only fragments from this world remain in the new space dominated by the desire for quick success and money and they, too, will be destroyed soon. The main reason for this, the creators of the performance suggest, is the representatives of the beautiful spiritual world’s selfish fixation on their own problems and obsessions and their indifferent dismissal of the proactive people around them who desperately want to be included in their world. Unfortunately, the deeply insightful and topical reading of the play, so brilliantly and effectively embodied by the visual concept of the production, did not find convincing expression in some of the actors’ performances.

The world of the great libraries, the cult of reading and long conversations about books and art is no more in Demerung, after Chekhov’s Cherry Orchard, directed by Daniel Kovacs and Mate Hegymegi, Narratíva Kollektíva. 2022. Photo: Dániel Dömölky

In contrast, this very problem was successfully resolved in the other performance based on a great dramatic text, also included in dunaPart6—Henrik Ibsen: Solness directed by Ildikó Gáspár at the Örkény István Theatre. Ildikó Gáspár has created a bold and original performance about the successful and acclaimed master builder Solness, who is torn between his narcissism and his fear of the young colleague who could take his place. The performance cleverly balances between the director’s interpretation of Ibsen’s well-known play and its retelling and experiencing as a personal story: Solness’ part is played by Pál Mácsai, the director of the theatre, while the character of Ragnar, his talented draftsman, is performed by Csaba Polgár, the recently appointed artistic director of the theatre’s studio space.

This latest edition of dunaPart once again became an attractive meeting space for making new contacts, exchanging ideas for cooperation and collaborative projects among Hungarian artists, and between them and their international colleagues. Together with the strong artistic programme, this valuable networking function establishes the platform as an important and much needed point on Europe’s contemporary performing arts map. 

*Kamelia Nikolova (PhD, DSc) is a theatre researcher, historian and theatre critic. She is Professor of European Theatre and Head of Theatre Studies Programme at the National Academy for Theatre and Film Arts, Sofia, Bulgaria. She is also Research Fellow at the Theatre Department of the Institute of Art Studies, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences and a visiting professor at other universities. Her research and teaching interests are connected with the history of theatre, theory of drama and performance, and new theatre practices. The list of her publications includes eleven books and many articles in Bulgarian and international journals.

Copyright © 2023 Kamelia Nikolova
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